Betatakin Ruins – Navajo National Monument, AZ

We’d heard about Betatakin Ruins, an ancient ancestral Puebloan settlement, from Eric and Laurel who had hiked it a couple of years ago.  Reading her post about the guided hike piqued our interest in the tightly-protected ruins.  Fortunately we were able to work this great hike into our plans as we passed through the area again on our way to Monument Valley.

Off we went early one morning, thinking we’d just drive around to explore the monument, since ranger-guided hikes were not scheduled to begin until May (according to their website).

Location of Navajo National Monument

As usual we stopped at the visitor center upon our arrival, and I was happy to learn there would be a guided hike due to the large number of people who had requested one that morning.  Ranger guide Jimmy Black was rounded up to take the group into the canyon just a few minutes after we arrived – how’s that for perfect timing!

Instead of describing our experience, I urge you to read Laurel’s excellent account of the hike.  We had the same guide, the same strenuous hike 3 miles out and back, and the same ruins as our destination.  The only difference was that Laurel and Eric had hiked it in the fall, while we were here for a springtime trek.

Betatakin Canyon

Navajo National Monument is off the beaten path, uncrowded and quiet.  It protects three cliff dwellings which contain some of the best ruins on the Colorado Plateau.  Betatakin and Keet Seel (a 17-mile hike) are seasonally open to the public, while Inscription House has been closed due to its fragility.

Betatakin Ruin

Nestled in Betatakin canyon is a relict Aspen tree forest

Steps, steps, steps – around 800 of them!

Betatakin Ruins

In an alcove on the canyon floor, Jimmy described how Navajo traditions are important in ceremonies and rituals

Betatakin ruins

Gambel Oak trees screen the ruins

In Navajo Betatakin means “House built on a ledge,” while Hopi’s call it Talastima, meaning “place of the blue corn tassels”

Betatakin Ruin

The westernmost structures were under the immense south-facing sandstone arch

Betatakin was constructed of sandstone, mud, mortar and wood

The 125-room cliff dwelling consisted of rooms used for food storage, living and ceremonies

Notice the intact roof ladders and earthen roofs

Betatakin

Jimmy used his laser pointer to highlight several petroglyphs

Betatakin was built between 1267 and 1286 in an enormous alcove measuring 452′ high and 370′ across

As is common for cliff dwellings, the site was built in the deep alcove of a south-facing canyon wall

Jimmy described the patterns weaved into baskets used for religious ceremonies and traditional weddings.  Each basket has a distinct pattern of representation.

Betatakin

The overlook on the edge of the canyon used to view the ruins – hiking down to them was a way better experience!

Passing through a thicket of sumac branches, used in basket weaving

Walking across Aspen woodland

What went down had to go back up – way up!

Betatakin Ruin

The last person out was responsible for locking the gate

Looking down at a small section of the stairway

Catching our breath after climbing those steps

We were tired when we reached the top of the mesa.  The hike down and up was strenuous, as advertised.  That’s why Jimmy had made sure at the beginning that nobody had any hip, knee, heart or respiratory problems, or recent surgery.  He did a great job of gauging the right speed for the group and when to stop for rest.

It was a tough hike, but the Betatakin Ruins were totally worth the effort!

Navajo National Monument protects a landscape of water-carved canyons that housed Ancestral Puebloan people for several centuries

 

Next up:  Bluff, Utah – the second time around